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Preface from Mooderino
When I say we all jumped on Caim, I mean me, Dudley and Flossie. They were the only ones who understood what it meant to bundle someone, a venerated English tradition. The British school system is a non-stop cavalcade of stamping on brand new white trainers, kicking away the feet of anyone leaning against a wall, and shoving them with someone crouching behind them. I think when it comes to understanding why kids are so cruel, people often forget how funny it is to be mean to someone for no reason.
This world had a translation device that usually converted phrases to their nearest counterpart in the other person’s language, but apparently shouting, “Bundle!” had no direct translation. Grayson and Toniono watched, perplexed, as we piled on.
It didn’t matter that there was only three of us against this legendary hero. I wasn’t much more than a strip of piss, but Dudley and Flossie combined would have flattened a charging rhinoceros. This particular rhino had lost its horn and tripped over its own feet, so it had no chance.
Caim was pinned to the ground, struggling to get up.
“Punch him in the balls! Punch him in the balls!” shouted Flossie with gusto. Bundle had a slightly different meaning in Birmingham schools, apparently. Flossie backed up her calls for genital mutilation by attempting to literally punch the poor boy in the testicles.
I wasn’t against this particular strat, but the whole point of the targeting below the belt is that it’s a one and done kind of deal. If you have to work it like a speed bag in the gym, you may not be reaping the benefits. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Not the warmest reception when you’ve been dead for several years and just made it back to the world of the living. The great hero returns, to be met with five knuckles in the nads.
I would have stopped her, but she wasn’t having much of an effect. Caim was lying on his front while Flossie pounded him in the taint, trying to get to his delicates through the back door. Not an impossible task, but there are more effective ways.
The rubber armour was doing its job (although I’m not sure preventing anal access to the testes was exactly what the suit’s designer had in mind).
“The suit is complete, battle perfection has been attained. Now, we just need to reinforce the seat in case some mad ginger bint tries to pummel the wearer in the butthole.”
Flossie’s small fist (although is any fist small when it’s trying to give you an unlubricated prostate exam?) bounced off Caim’s backside.
“Hey, calm down,” I called out, my arm wrapped around Caim’s neck and my weight pressing down on the back of his head. “We’re trying to subdue him down, not prevent him from having children.”
“If we hit him in the balls, he won’t be able to keep the suit on,” said Flossie, still whacking away. I didn’t know where she’d come up with this theory, but it wasn’t bad. If he got hit hard enough and lost concentration, perhaps it would make the suit dematerialise.
Dudley was lying across Caim’s back with his eyes closed. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.
“You’re not hitting his balls. They’re the dangly things at the front.” I was pretty sure she knew that, unless Dudley had a medical condition I was unaware of (and wished to remain unaware of).
“Yo’… can… reach… them… from… the… back,” she said in time to her punches.
She wasn’t wrong, but you could also get to China by drilling through the Earth. I wouldn’t recommend it, though.
Balls attached externally has always seemed a poor design choice. It’s like walking into your house and leaving your car keys hanging outside on the front door. Your car might not get stolen, but why take the risk?
You would think they should at least have a mechanism to pull them back into the body in case of danger, but no. Although, they say sumo wrestlers have such great control that they can retract them at will, so it is possible. I think it would have been nice if they only dropped down when you were feeling cheerful and content.
“Darling, are you happy? Really happy? I want to be sure, show me your balls.”
Life would be so much simpler and men would be able to express their feelings in a way that felt comfortable. I guess Mother Nature thinks she knows best.
“Yield!” I shouted at the back of Caim’s head. “It isn’t him. It isn’t Arthur.”
Joshaya had made it to the door and was gone, but Caim was intent on pursuit. The problem was that he looked like Arthur, and Caim was in no mood to check for discrepancies. It would have helped if he had just changed form, but if my theory was correct, he actually was in Arthur’s body. He was Arthur, sort of.
“I will kill him,” said Caim, his voice muffled somewhat by his vine armour. He was trying to crawl out from under us towards his target. “He took everything from me. Everything!”
“No, he didn’t,” I said. “What about Angel Rose? You still have her, don’t you?”
The mention of the sword broke through his rage. He extended one arm, the hand opening and closing. The blade emerged in a streak of purple light, crystallising into sword form, and then immediately retracted again.
“No,” said Caim, his voice a sob. The vines covering his head began to peel open.
It seemed Flossie’s strategy was actually working as intended. It wasn’t often negotiations involved fisting, other than when the DUP are discussing the future of Northern Ireland, in which case I imagine there’s a great deal of fisting, all of it very angry.
“Please, make her… stop,” gasped Caim.
“Do you yield?” I said. You have to make sure there’s no take-backs in this sort of situation.
“Please…” He turned his head to look at me. His eyes were filled with a wretchedness I had rarely seen outside of a mirror. The boy had seen some shit in his time, been betrayed by those closest to him, given up all hope. And now a Brummie redhead was punching him in the anus. I could easily see myself ending up with the same desperate look in my eyes ten years from now. Or ten minutes, depending on how things went.
“Flossie, stop.” I gave her the order firmly and clearly, so obviously she ignored me.
“It’s working, it’s bloody working.” She kept slamming away They weren’t very hard hits, but like Chinese water torture, the tap, tap, tap would eventually drive you mad.
Dudley reached out a hand and caught her wrist. Here was a guy who knew sometimes you had to step in and restrain a woman. Not to dominate or oppress her, just to keep her from going ballistic on some poor arsehole. Literally, in this case.
Now that Flossie had stopped, Caim went limp.
We got off him and sat on the floor panting while Caim wept.
“How did you know?” said Grayson, who had been sitting at the table watching this whole time.
“Know what?” I said through heavy breathing.
“That he would fall over. You knew.”
“Because I made him fall over. It’s a trick I do at parties and assassination attempts.”
Grayson had the look of a man who was both impressed and appalled. “Your approach to battle is flabbergasting,” he said to Flossie.
“Thank yo’ very much,” she replied with a delighted grin.
I bent down to where Caim was lying with his face on the floor. The armour had dissolved and was just a covering of ash now. “Listen, it’s going to be fine. You’re going to find Arthur, and Peter, too. You’re going to kill them, and then you’re going to be the ruler of this world, you and Angel Rose.”
His head rose off the ground, his eyes red and tearful. “How do you know her name?”
“Magic,” I said. “I’m the wizard who helps the hero become king. Then I disappear into the mist, remembered only in legends.” It would be a pretty odd legend if Flossie’s part in it was included.
My aim was to make myself a side-character. with Caim front and centre. He would take the risks, and he would claim the rewards. And good luck to him.
“Why not you?” he said. “Why don’t you want to be king?”
He was new, so he had no idea who I was. That was both good and bad.
Good because it meant he would take his cue from how others treated me, and right now the whole city thought I was a big deal.
Bad because he would assume I would use him for my own purposes just like everyone else had.
“I want to be left alone,” I said, “but everyone’s going to keep bothering me until there’s someone in charge who can take control and stop all this fighting. I think that’s you. You don’t trust them, they won’t be able to fool you again. And if they try, kill them.”
“Kill them?” he said, like this was an intriguing notion. “Yes, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all.” His features hardened and he looked directly into my eyes. “They said they would use their magic to help me, too. How do I know you’re any different?”
“You don’t, but I think you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. I’m not like the other boys.” It’s not much of a claim, but it was fairly accurate. “And if you don’t think I’m being honest with you, let Angel Rose deal with me.”
He nodded. The sword was his comfort blanket, it was the one he could count on. Maybe he was right. Eventually, you’ll meet someone who won’t try to ruin your life for their own benefit, right? Right?
Damicar came sliding across the floor on his stomach, a tray of food pushed ahead of him. “I thought he might be peckish.”
The food looked delicious. Caim’s mood was immediately lifted as he tucked in, one bite was enough to set him off like a ravenous whirlwind.
It’s amazing how a full stomach can improve your outlook. Until you get fat and everyone tells you to stop being such a pig.
“No funny ingredients?” I said.
“No, no,” said Damicar. “I’ve learned my lesson.” He looked around. “Where is Guildleader Toniono, by the way?”
I raised my head and then rose to my knees. Toniono had been sorting out beans on the table, a way to keep him busy while the fungi worked its way out of his blood. There were two piles of beans on the table and no sign of Toniono.
The large dose of passion fungi had a suicidal side-effect, and Toniono topping himself would only complicate matters unnecessarily.
“Dudley, can you see where he is?”
“I’ll try,” said Dudley. He sat cross-legged and closed his eyes. “I see him,” said Dudley. “He’s on the roof. No, he’s going to jump!”
Toniono had become so uncomfortable in his own skin, he had to end it all, quietly and away from everyone. Wouldn’t want to make a fuss. He’d gone full English, something you should only do at breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, black pudding, mushrooms, toast, chips, mug of tea with two sugars. Still suicide, but at a more sedate pace.
I left my body. It was the situation my power was ideally suited to deal with, stopping someone from doing what they wanted. Cockblocker to the rescue.
I was able to float straight up, through the ceiling, through the room above, which was the bathroom, through that ceiling which had been soiled by Dudley and Flossie in some manner I didn’t want to think about as I phased through it (wishing I’d taken the long way round) and arrived on the flat roof.
Toniono was indeed about to step off into the unknown, or in this case, a small overgrown flower bed. Was it high enough to kill him? Hard to say. I decided I’d have to err on the side of caution and save him.
My normal reluctance to get involved was tempered by the fact I was partly to blame for his predicament ( you have to take responsibility for your plebs) and because it’s hard to let someone die right in front of you. If it was behind me, I would have probably let it go.
The problem, as always, was the sheer tedium of performing this life-saving procedure. I don’t know how long it took, but several hours at least. Once I’d finished what I’m guessing was a very intricate and complex job — I zoned out for most of it — I returned to my body and restarted time.
“It’s fine,” I said to the horrified and shocked faces around me. “He should land around there.” I pointed at the window.
Everyone turned as Toniono fell past, and then back up again, then down and up. The black goo that held existence together was springy stuff.
Toniono slowed down for his final descent, vomited on the window pane, and then fell to the ground more or less unhurt.
An added bonus was that throwing up helped lessen the effects of the mushrooms. Should have just stuck my fingers down his throat in the first place. Another valuable lesson learned.
My mind had turned to mush with all the effort I’d put into being an unrecognised hero. I felt exhausted.
“How did you do that?” asked Caim, who had started to realise the people who had killed him were the least of his problems. Now that he was with us, he had a whole new set of concerns.
“Magic,” I said. “I told you, I’m a master.” I performed the gesture all true mages are known by, jazz hands.
He looked at me like master wasn’t the word he would have used. Grayson had the same look on his face. I wondered if the two of them were related.
“We should go see the Fairy Queen,” I said. “Do you know her?”
Caim nodded. “She is untrustworthy and vicious. I will crush her.”
“We need her army, so can you crush her after you crush Arthur and Peter?”
He nodded again, reluctantly. That was fine. I was quite pleased — he clearly felt confident against the Fairy Queen in a fight. If he was willing to take over vulva duties, that would be all my problems solved in one go.
“Send for my carriage.” I turned to Grayson. “Do I have a carriage?” He nodded.
Everything was proceeding like clockwork. Not a clock that told the right time, and the alarm wouldn’t go off sometimes, even though you’d set it correctly, but the hands were going around, or at least they did when you remembered to wind it up. But other than that, like clockwork.
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